On April 13, 1967, New York Mets right-hander Tom Seaver made his major league debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Shea Stadium. The Mets won the contest, 3-2, though Chuck Estrada and not Seaver was the winning pitcher.
It was a positive start to the career of Seaver, who would go on to become the greatest Met in franchise history, and one of the best starting pitchers in the history of baseball.
Seaver had been signed by the Mets back in April of 1966. He was initially drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who opted not to sign him, and then by the Atlanta Braves, whose contract with Seaver was ultimately voided after violating an NCAA rule about players signing pro contracts after the college season had begun. This allowed the Mets to sign Seaver after their name was literally picked out of a hat, lottery-style, by then-Commissioner William Eckert.
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After spending a year with the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate, the Jacksonville Suns, Seaver impressed the team in spring training of 1967 and was selected to start the year in the big leagues.
In his first start as a major leaguer, he matched up against Pirates southpaw Woodie Fryman.
The rest of the Pirates lineup was stacked with famous baseball names like Matty Alou and future Hall of Famers like Bill Mazeroski, Willie Stargell, and Roberto Clemente. Former Met Jesse Gonder caught this game for the Pirates, with Donn Clendenon, Gene Alley, and speedster Maury Wills rounding out the lineup for the Bucs.
For Seaver’s debut, the Mets sent out a lineup that included several players who would become well-established in Queens, such as shortstop Bud Harrelson, catcher Jerry Grote, first baseman Ron Swoboda, and right fielder Cleon Jones. Some lesser-known names starting for the Amazins that day included Tommie Reynolds, Jerry Buchek, and leadoff man Don Bosch. Ken Boyer, a former All-Star and MVP with the St. Louis Cardinals, also played for the Mets in 1967 and started the game at third base.
Though Seaver would finish his Mets career with a sparkling WHIP of 1.076, he gave up a double to the leadoff hitter Wills, the first batter he ever faced in the major leagues. Seaver managed to escape that first big league inning without allowing a run, which likely helped calm any debut jitters he’d been experiencing.
He ended up settling in for a solid first start, going 5.1 innings and working out of several jams while giving up two earned runs and striking out eight. Those runs were driven in by Clemente and Wills, two of the Pirates’ best hitters, so Seaver’s stat line for his first game was certainly impressive overall.
On the Mets’ side, there was not much offense, but they managed to score enough runs to eke out a win in Seaver’s first start. Two of their runs were driven in by the second baseman Buchek, on a two-run homer in the second inning. The other run scored was on a pinch-hit double by Chuck Hiller in the 8th inning, which brought in Buchek from third.
After Estrada came on in relief of Seaver in the 6th inning to work out of a jam, he was relieved by right-hander Ron Taylor, who pitched a scoreless 9th inning to lock down the save and the victory for the Mets. Seaver would not earn his first major league win until his second start, which came a week later at Shea against the Chicago Cubs.
Perhaps the most remarkable statistic from Seaver’s debut was that only 5,005 fans were at Shea Stadium to witness it. In a stadium that could seat over 50,000 fans, this was an especially sparse crowd. But Seaver, as he would be throughout his major league career, was all business on that Thursday afternoon and made a good enough impression to stick around in the Mets’ starting rotation for the rest of the year.
As most Mets fans know, Seaver’s rookie season was a meteoric rise to pitching stardom. He finished the year with a 16-13 record, 2.76 ERA, 170 strikeouts, and a 1.203 WHIP, which earned him the Mets’ first Rookie of the Year award.
Later on in his career, Seaver was quoted as saying, “If you don’t think baseball is a big deal, don’t do it. But if you do, do it right.” Clearly, he showed enough talent and determination throughout his career to be “right” most of the time.
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The few Mets fans in attendance for Seaver’s debut may not have predicted that he would become a Hall of Famer, but they saw more than a glimpse of the grit and professionalism that made “Tom Terrific” so special.